the vaccine war



Tom Delbanco, M.D.
April 25, 2010 14:06
Tom Delbanco M.D.A professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a primary care physician at Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, he also served as senior consultant for this program.

When you're nervous about vaccines -- and many of the diseases they target have disappeared from sight or certainly don't seem nearby -- it's easy to understand hesitancy about piercing a baby's skin again and again.

When I discuss the relatively new vaccine against shingles with my aging patients, it's simpler. Among those "of a certain age," almost everyone has seen shingles, and many know friends or acquaintances knocked for a loop by that virus, with more than a few left with ugly scars or chronic pain. So it's much easier for my patients to consider the risks vs benefits because they have some firsthand knowledge of the risks. And of course the perspective is quite different when you're thinking about yourself at age 70, rather than about another person - a newborn with a whole life ahead (though even in the shingles example, you need to consider others because you need to stay away from people with damaged immune systems while the vaccine is settling in, and several posts in this discussion have rightly pointed out that it's very hard to know who may be at risk in that respect, whether adults or infants).

So the dilemma is much more difficult for a parent with a baby who already cries enough. Who's seen diphtheria recently? Am I in a community or circumstance where hepatitis B is a real risk? How should I weigh the common good versus my child's unique interests?

These decisions aren't easy, and anyone who claims they are sells the value of individual perspectives short. The survey we display shows that "different strokes for different folks" is still the American way!

posted april 27, 2010

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